Scott Macnab: Salmond saga taking its toll on Nicola Sturgeon as split in SNP loyalties sets scene for hostile return to Parliament
Alex Salmond wanted to neutralise political attacks on the SNP when he this week quit the party he led for two decades.
But his decision to set up a crowdfunder to help his legal campaign has not only been a gift for opposition parties, it has seen rumblings of disunity within the SNP itself.
This is a wealthy, powerful man. Opponents question whether he needs such assistance, but there is also a wider fear it may deter women coming forward in future to make complaints against similarly powerful figures if this is the kind of PR offensive that can be mounted.
Almost £90,000 had been raised last night, with the tally still rising. To some this will be taken as evidence that the much of the grassroots Nationalist movement is backing Salmond. In fairness, it should be said 3,500 donors is set against the 100,000-plus membership of the SNP.
But the concern about the impact on future victims appeared to strike a chord with Nicola Sturgeon and the party’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford yesterday.
As Mr Salmond’s funding drive smashed through its £50,000 target, the First Minister took time out to urge her social media followers to back a Women’s Aid campaign calling for the so called “rape clause” to be axed south of the Border because it is viewed as “anti women”.
It has a been a near-impossible situation for Ms Sturgeon and the strain is visibly taking its toll on her. She has rightly stood by the head of the civil service, Leslie Evans, over the process that was introduced last year and used to investigate Mr Salmond.
He has sought to raise questions over the civil servant’s role in this affair, insisting he has been denied a fair hearing, both because of the process used and in the way details of the case emerged in the media. It is a case of “sustained” leaking from St Andrew’s House, according to Mr Salmond, but Ms Sturgeon is also feeling the pressure from her party.
Senior figures were not happy Michelle Thomson was pressured into resigning the party whip when allegations of mortgage fraud emerged against her. The former Edinburgh West MP was later cleared after a lengthy probe, but lost her seat. That split in loyalties to her political mentor and the rights of women making claims is a dilemma Ms Sturgeon could do without as Scottish political hostilities resume when Parliament returns from its summer recess next week.